Monday, 20 November 2017

Over to t'other coast

The Safari has had a few days away across on the east coast. Lots of sightseeing along the Cleveland coast and in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park (aka North Yorkshire Moors dead zone - there's almost no wildlife at all!) but not a lot of time for wildlifing.
We went to the picturesque Yorkshire harbour town of Whitby via Brough and Barnard Castle, where the castle is impressive looming large and austere above you as you drive across the river. As ever we did a Buzzards v Kestrels count during the journey, a not very productive Buzzards 2; Kestrels 0. Dead things were also recorded apart from the horrendous number of Pheasants, more of the 40,000,000 released in the autumn must get hit by cars than by the flying lead they are bred for, the only other thing we could identify was a drake Mallard
Along the motorway we had a Jay carrying an acorn fly over us then a few miles further on two more together. Close to the tiny village of Ravenstone we passed a Red Grouse sat atop a roadside bush. In the distance a couple of large plumes of smoke rose from Heather fires burning on the fells of the Yorkshire Dales National Park lit by the grouse blasting fraternity. 
Our first full day was in town where we met up with our Extreme Photographer who is working there now. The harbour area was lacking in trawlers so there were very few gulls in town and none of the hoped for Iceland or Glaucous Gulls
Most towns have a large population of Feral Pigeons but here they are replaced by multitudes of Turnstones running round between peoples' feet picking up various dropped bits n pieces.
Not much else in or around the harbour but we did watch a Cormorant catch a fish in the dock and others were sat drying their wings on the outer breakwaters and there was a shy Rock Pipit flitting around. We stayed in a modern development close to the river right beneath the impressive disused railway viaduct just out of town.
It's 120 feet from the water to the track (or at least where the track used to be)
How many bricks??? It took just two years to build
Top quality Victorian detail - was it really necessary to be so intricate?
No piece about Whitby is complete without a mention of the ancient Abbey, so here it is as seen from the deck of the viaduct complete with 'shanty town' of the allotments just beneath it - bet they don't often get a mention in the same breath as the abbey!
In the afternoon we took Monty for a wander on the nearby beach at Sandsend. The tide was just on the ebb. He lost his ball in the surf and we got our wellies full of water trying to find it for him. The surf not only took his ball but also provided decent conditions for some of the local surfers. Hardy folk, we can confirm the water wasn't particularly warm and a thick November mist rolled in.
Looking the other way towards the village the light coming through the clouds was dramatically catching the breaking waves.
Back at Temporary Base Camp in the evening a Tawny Owl was 'kewicking' nearby, our Extreme Photographer heard two bickering a little later.
Wednesday had us watching a pair of Bullfinches down the old railway line early morning with Monty. There were signs of Badgers all over the place and Monty's nose was all over the place too trying to work out what they are, what they were doing and where they were going...He's never met a real live Badger yet.
The ex-track side bushes held a good number of Redwings and Blackbirds but where are all the Fieldfares?
The day was spent sightseeing up the coast. We got as far as Saltburn stopping at the very steep Staithes on the way.
Like Whitby it was a little disappointing to see very few boats in the harbours. They must only park them there for the summer tourists.
The rocky shores around he outer harbour held Rock Pipits and Jackdaws but there was a surprise at the top car park in the form of a couple of Tree Sparrows in the House Sparrow flock.
From Staithes we headed down to Runswick Bay. Here Redshank and Oystercatchers roosting on the far beach inaccessible to humans and their mutts while to tide was still up to the rocks. The gaps between the big sea defence rocks were home to Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks.
As we were leaving we had a special moment as two Roe Deer ambled across the road in front of the car, good job it's a steep slow climb out of the village. A Sparrowhawk was seen by our Extreme Photographer perched on a road sign as we sped by on our way south.
Back at Sandsend a Stonechat was spotted on a clump of roadside Brambles close to where we'd parked up the previous day.
The Tawny Owl was in the garden again at dusk.
Dead things seen on the road today included a Brown Hare and a Hedgehog.
Thursday saw us head inland driving through forests, over moors and trekking to waterfalls. Our first stop in the Dalby Forest only gave us a Wren and a Coal Tit, almost totally devoid of birdlife. The trackside Birch trees were covered in Witches Broom some of which were covered with mosses and in some cases Wood Sorrel too.
At the visitor centre we hoped there's be a bird feeding station but in this instance there wasn't, so no chance of any Siskin pics for our Year Bird Challenge although we could hear some in the trees not too far away, no Crossbills though. A Jay, Robins and a few Blackbirds were all that were in the area.
Over the desolate moors there was no sign of life apart from a couple of Red Grouse always far too far away for any chance of a pic.
Trees will grow on the moors as can be seen from the young Birch growing safely on the road side of the fence. It's got no chance on the other side as it gets burned to 'promote' the growth of Heather and destroy almost everything else. Obviously no raptors as they've all been done in by those lovely grouse shooters. Please sign this latest petition to have this out-dated Victorian 'tradition' banned and the upland environment improved for all. There should be a mossy, lichen encrusted woodland up there not mile upon mile of flat nothingness.
Once off the derelict moorland we were in verdant woodland, or as verdant as late autumn allows on the hunt for waterfalls. First up was the scramble over small car sized boulders to Mallyan Spout close to the village of Goathland, the real 'Adensfield' in the long running TV show Heartbeat.
A mush easier walk in but a trickier drive to was Falling Foss not far from Whitby. Apparently a well kept local secret as chat in the pub that evening revealed that it's a 'locals place; that the tourists don't know about. Perhaps more tourists should thoroughly peruse the Ordnance Survey maps often left in their digs. A really serene little find and a beautiful woodland walk.
Once again the tawny Owl was calling back at Base Camp at dusk.
Friday was our drive home day. It dawned frosty with a lovely but chilly sunrise.

The old railway line gave us our best views of the Bullfinches of the week and a Sparrowhawk. Monty was very interested in the two Grey Squirrels he spied running across the horse paddocks. We have to say the Bullfinches have been the best birds of the week, great to see them every day!
Before leaving Whitby we drove up to the James Cook monument. Can't believe he left the tiny speck of the remote Pacific island of Tahiti only to bump into some land not on his map...Australia!!!
Great to see a gull on his head - wonder what seabirds he saw on his voyages and how many - and more worryingly how many he ate!
Whitby was a whaling town almost 3000 being brought in to be chopped up and boiled down. Again we wonder what species, is that why there's no coastal Orcas in the North Sea and very few Humpbacks? We've not looked to see if there's any species records. These are a replacement set donated from Barrow, Alaska, so possibly Bowhead? They are 20 feet high.
The whale jaw bones
We took the scenic route back to the west coast via Pickering, thirsk, Ripon, Harrogate, Skipton and Clitheroe. Another almost raptor free route Buzzards 0; Kestrels 1. The Kestrel was on the flat land beyond the escarpment from the White Horse near Thirsk.
Dead things on this route included:- 
Pheasants - gazzillions
Badger 1
Barn Owl 1
Fox 1

Good to be back at Permanent Base Camp from where our first Safari was out to the nature reserve. A Little Egret (MMLNR #88) was the best sighting.
Today we were able to grab an hour out between the drizzly showers. Off to the big park we went with CR in search of the Scaup that have been there a few days.
Success, they hadn't done an overnight flit!!!
Scaup (187; YBC #163) was on the possible but not definite list of birds we thought we'd get pics of during the year.
Also there has been a Ring Necked Parakeet knocking around for a few weeks and we were lucky enough for it to show for us.
Another not definite to get although there is a small breeding colony, that seems to be declining, nearby. Good to get old Polly on the Year Bird Challenge; Ring Necked Parakeet (188; YBC #164).
We 'need' one more to reach our predicted target from earlier in the year. Over in Yorkshire we hoped to get Siskin, Crossbill, Red Grouse and Shag but no such luck.
Where to next? back to Marton Mere nature reserve in the morning - but will the Bittern(s?) show for us???
In the meantime let us know who's bright green in your outback.



Thursday, 9 November 2017

Otterly brilliant

The Safari hasn't been out as much as hoped this week. Yesterday we had to say goodbye to our large Elm tree. There wasn't anything inherently wrong with it it had just become too big for the small space it was in and had begun to send up suckers all over the garden which could easily become a digging out problem in a couple of years time and could pop up in neighbours' gardens too. Sadly it means that there will be no chance of the local White Letter Hairstreak setting up a satellite colony at Base Camp as was the original hope when we planted it. Perhaps now the small subservient Rowan will be able to grow and maybe one day attract a Waxwing or two if the Blackbirds leave any berries for them.
Many thanks to CP and his skill with the Stihl
Today we took Monty down to Marton Mere for a quick spin in the sunshine, once the early morning rain had cleared. First stop was the (to our mind) somewhat over-zealously cleared Feeding Station. There was little about apart from a couple of Pheasants and a Grey Squirrel, no sign of yesterday's reported Bullfinch.
 From there we could hear the volunteers' strimmers not too far away. We thought they were continuing to work at the little bay view point they made last week that we're not fond of, we think the time and effort could have been spent better elsewhere on the reserve. When we got there we saw we were wrong, they weren't there but further down at the first hide. We had a quick chat but it was too noisy for Monty's sensitive doggy ears. They did tell us that there were two Otters over against the far reeds. We looked and looked and saw 200 or more Coot panic but didn't see any Otters.
We left the vols to their tasks and walked down to the next hide where we didn't go in but snuck round the front and flattened the area of reeds to the left to open up the view for the winter, our first bit of volunteering here, we're sure there'll be more!
We also had a look at the new reed island from this angle...it's massssiiiivvveee!!!!! And the ducks seem to like to loaf in its lee so perhaps it's not all bad...still going to be a nightmare though.




Once again we were time constrained...how does that happen when your retired?? so we had to head back. This time the strimmering team were having a tea-break and all was quiet enough to join them again. This time we were told the Otters were having a swim round again. Wow, we got superb prolonged views of them with the bins, if a little distant, on the far side of the mere. Excellent!!! Awesome!!! Other expletives are available. Just a little to distant for our 300mm lens we brought out today - typical; and we're not entirely sure why we opted to leave the 600mm back at Base Camp - won't make that mistake again in a hurry!
Well chuffed but later found out there were two Bitterns flying round together in the afternoon, long after we'd had to leave though.
Almost back at the car we spotted a few flowers of Meadow Cranesbill enjoying the last of the year's sunshine.
In the afternoon we joined our local Wildlife Trust's Living Seas team for a Sea Watch at Rossall tower. A chilly and blustery afternoon but the event was well attended. We got a count of 50 Eiders roosting on the new shingle island, there were a lot of Oystercatchers and Turnstones roosting over there too.
It took a while for the only Grey Seal to put in an appearance and we missed it. While searching the waves and troughs for it we spotted half a dozen Little Gulls, five adults and a first winter, flying west out of the bay. A nice find even though we say so ourself.
Not much else was out there for the others to enjoy, a few more Eiders and a few Common Scoters on the sea and a small flock of Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and a Sanderling on the beach.
Where to next? More gardening at Base Camp tomorrow but we'll keep our ears open for anything passing overhead.
In the meantime let us know who's gracing the waters in your outback.



Saturday, 4 November 2017

Twitching the dowtwichers

The Safari had a pretty good week out n about this week. We had a couple of morning visits to Marton Mere where we had a few Redwings and a lot of Blackbirds feeding on the Hawthorn berries along the wetland hedge.
Lawson's wetland looking south east
At the Viewing Platform many of the 300 plus Coot suddenly scarpered across the water for cover, we hoped the Otter or Bittern or perhaps a Marsh/Hen Harrier would come in to view but no such luck, it was a cat that had frightened them, not a fluffy one but a giant helium filled one - don't forget folks balloons blow so don't let go! Well all balloon releases are is glorified large scale littering; we can't believe they've not been banned yet and if nonsense like this waste of natural resourses weren't filled with helium they wouldn't float off in to the ether to land who knows where and cause who knows what problems.
The giant flying cat flushed about 100 Wigeon off the water too which flew around whistling their most un-duck-like call until the 'danger' was out of sight.
We wanted to see the new 'island' we'd been told of. The little island we reported in a recent post has been usurped by something much much more substantial - looks to be over 100 tons of management nightmare! How on earth do you clear that out of the middle of the mere and if you do where do you ump it without the enormous expense of removing it off site?
Frustratingly there were far too many loose dogs to see much wildlife - it's not as it there isn't a 3 mile walk and six acre field nearby they can be excercised in, absolutely no need to bring an unleashed dog in to the nature reserve just to pall ball - so annoying! Having said that we did here a Bullfinch calling from the densest part of the scrub and we stood watched, listened and waited to see if it would show but it didn't. We later were chatting to regular visitor TS who'd had great views about half an hour later not far from where we'd heard the calls.
With no birds to point the lens at it was vegetation that caught our eye.
Dog Rose hips
The Feeding Station has had a bit of a make over, a bit on the excessive side to our mind, and there were very few birds about other than the usual couldn't care less Pheasants, a few wary Chaffinches and Great Tits and no fewer than four Grey Squirrels. Not sure what the rationale is behind the clearance of the cover around the feeders and beyond but we forgot to ask the vols when we met up with them later on.
After the frustrations, including lack of Hawfinches, of Marton Mere we teamed up with CR again for another safari south of the river. 
Our first stop was at Marshside RSPB where the Cattle Egrets were doing what Cattle Egrets do best but doing it well away across the marsh. We counted four although five have been seen in recent days. The west Lancashire coast is getting more like the Carmargue everyday...there'll be nesting Greater Flamingos before too long.......
A quick look at the marsh from the two screens and hide gave us countless Black Tailed Godwits, a good selection of waterfowl but no obvious sign of our day's quarry, the Long Billed Dowitchers, not that we'd be able to pick them out among the godwits with no scope today. For some reason neither of us had ever stopped at the viewing platform at the far south of the reserve so off we went there to view the pool that a Scaup had been frequenting, it wasn't with the few Tufted Ducks that were present and we totally overlooked the distant and very late in the season Garganey. But at least the light was good and we had great views of the common species on offer, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Shelduck, Black Tailed Godwit, Redshank, Lapwing, Canada, Grey Lag and Pink Footed Geese; the Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail we'd been told about in the reeds to our left didn't make themselves known to us.
Canada Goose
Lapwing
Moorhen
After while we decided to go back to the hide but stopped to ask what the couple of lads with scopes were looking at close to the road junction. They were looking for the Long Billed Dowitchers which had just been reported on their pagers as seen from the hide and they were trying to find them from there in better light.
We arrived at the hide and were told where to look and kindly given scope views, without which we'd probably never have found the sleeping 'beauty'.
Can you see it?
Occasionally it would shuffle around a bit but barely moved at all. Eventually a bit of a kerfuffle in the ranks of the Black Tailed Godwits had it rouse itself and take a look at what was going on.
You can see it now - right? Did you find it in the previous pic?
It's the first Long Billed Dowitcher (186, YBC #162) we've seen since the mid 90s so it was good to make acquaintance with one again even if it did look like this for most of the morning.
You know where it is now but would you have found it - don't think we would!
Certainly a bonus bird for our Year Bird Challenge, not even close to being on the radar earlier in the year.
With that success and 'thank yous' said we set off to the reserve we do not mention by name for the rest of the afternoon. A quick look in their 'new' Discovery hide showed the light to be tricky, this Whooper Swan out of a fine selection of waterfowl was the best we could muster with the camera.
Whooper Swan
But leaving the hide which way to go, left or right? Right was tempting with the afternoon sun behind us so we went left ignoring the hide without opening windows but with a heater - didn't need that today it was very mild - and went straight to the next little hide with the Kingfisher perch, it was very quiet there so we didn't stop long but continued to the Kingfisher Hide where we never see Kingfishers and we about turned when a birder coming down the steps told us a Kingfisher had been showing from the next hide not fiver minutes earlier.
Luckily it was still there.
We had the most prolonged views of a Kingfisher we've had in a very long time, perhaps ever and watched it catch a small fish and then a right dobber which we think is a Perch. Doubt if we've ever seen a Kingfisher with a fish that large before...an impressive catch indeed!
There was a supporting cast of hundreds of Teal and Wigeon and an obliging pair of Kestrels and an unobliging duo of Marsh Harriers.
The Kingfisher decided it was time to move on and digest its ginormous meal somewhere comfy so we went back to the far side and stopped at one of the screens where the old hide used to be - they still give better light than the new all singing all dancing family friendly hide.
Shelduck
And even closer
As the afternoon's Whooper Swan feed for the punters draws near the waterfowl start to gather where the wheelbarrow of grain will appear. It's quite a spectacle! Unfortunately we had to leave before the melee started.
He'll be out in a minute - how many species can you find?
A great few days out on safari...but still no Hawfinch for us!
Where to next? Not sure where we'll get to next week but Marton Mere is probably a given.
In the meantime let us know who's bitten off almost more than they can chew in your outback.